I have been asked several times to write this story about how we found the Pink car and managed to get it from a wreck to the top of Pikes Peak for the 2009 Race. So here is the “I won’t bore you with every last detail” version.
The re-birth of a Race Car. Origins
The Pink car was originally one of two sponsored entries from Nissan USA for the Speedvision series (Which later became the SPEED World Challenge series) that was run with the ALMS program in the early part of the decade. Although it currently has a 1995 front fascia, it started life as a 1997 model. Ed Shairbaum campaigned both the primary car, and this car. The Pink car (obviously, not pink back then) was put into service in 2001 after a crash that ended up being terminal for Ed’s primary car. This brand new car, directly off the assembly line in Japan, had been sitting silently in a storage facility since 1997, patiently waiting for its turn to be put onto the track. After the destruction of the primary car, Ed’s team had just four days to get this car together and on the road to the next race. They completely gutted and hastily installed a cage, and then transferred as many parts as they could from the old car. They were just in time to make the next race.
The car was raced for the rest of that season and a majority of the new season without incident until the ALMS race at Road Atlanta in 2002. Its Speedvision career came to an abrupt end on lap two of the feature race when it was tapped from behind in the Esses and spun 180 degrees, hit head on and turned sideways and then t-boned on the drivers side. I was told that the Speedvision races were always a contact sport, especially mid-pack, where Ed had started on this day. The car was totaled and Ed made the decision right then to take a break from racing. He sold the car, just as it was, to a guy from Houston who was looking for a car to turn into a drifter.
The new owner had the car in his possession just long enough to have a new front clip grafted onto the structure and also have some really horrible body work done to the driver’s side, where the car had been t-boned. It’s my understanding that he either lost interest or funds to complete the project and it sat in a garage in Houston for the next four years. I had done some other business with the guy who owned it at the time (the second owner since Ed) and had seen it in his garage. I thought it might be a good foundation for a track day car or occasional drift car. The owner and I came to terms on a price and I hauled the empty shell back to my garage in North Texas.
Just a few days after bringing home the car, my ex-wife and I decided we’d seen enough of each other, and divorce proceedings began. A stressful and costly battle for custody of my son dragged on well after the divorce was final. The car would have to wait.
It’s now early 2007 and I have met the love of my life, Jenifer. Armed with a new found confidence and the love of a woman who not only appreciates my passion for racing but also encourages me to follow my dreams, I start thinking about the car again. At that time, I was racing in the Pro Quad division at Pikes Peak, but often thought about making a change.
Organizers of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb had recently created the Time Attack division and the rules looked like they would suit the 240 pretty well. So, after some discussions with Jen, and a few meetings with potential sponsors, I decided that the 240 would be my next ride up the Hill after retiring from the Pro Quad Division. The only question was whether or not we could complete the build in time to get it sorted and ready for 2009. Funny thinking about that now…I still don’t think she’s entirely sorted. But we do what we can, when we can afford to do it. This is, after all, racing on a wafer-thin budget.
Construction officially began on August 12, 2008. I had a basic plan in place for the car: Naturally aspirated 200-ish horsepower motor, simple modified stock suspension, using the existing 17×7.5 Forgeline wheels that came with the car…you know, a basic build to get some experience.
Our plans started changing almost immediately. Getting a car completed in that short period of time , well, I knew would be a difficult proposition, but it was something I wanted to tackle. To add to the difficulty, we find out that Jen is pregnant. This was one of a few things that happened right away that made me think the timeline would be impossible. We were expecting to have the car completed and on the track for testing in mid March 2009.
Things didn’t quite go as planned.
Mistake Number One: Make tons of changes so the timeline gets stretched beyond the drop dead date.
The back end and trunk area of the car were in fairly bad shape from a couple years of close, fender to fender racing. So I planned to just cut out most of the trunk area. When we got it out, we decided that since we’ve come this far with the back end, why not go ahead and replace the entire rear end with a tube frame and build in a fuel cell. That one change alone probably added three weeks to the project. Not to mention what it did to the budget.
Mistake number Two: Make decisions that blow apart your budget.
The deadline for 2009 Pikes Peak entry had come and gone, and we were solidly in with both feet. Like it or not, come hell or high water, this car had to be completed. Entry fees have already been paid and we have already come to agreement with a couple paying sponsors including Timmy Megenbiers Sick Tea. They were great and even sent me to Bob Bondurants 4-day Grand Prix School.
Mistake Number Bazillion: Money First, then wrap the car in their name.
On the flip side of that, we also were promised help from an upstart energy drink company that turned out to be giant flakes. These guys never did anything they promised, never showed up at the race or anywhere else with product, and still owe a good friend of ours a ton of money. Welcome to racing. Augh.
In mid December 2008 I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize and when I answered the phone I was greeted with “Hello, Ken? This is Ed Shairbaum. Does that name ring a bell?” To this point I had never met or spoken with Ed, but I knew he was the driver of the car when it was in the Speedvision series. I said, “Yeah, your name is all over my race car!” We had a great conversation about the car and Ed even gave me thorough details about the car’s history, etc. He found out about our project through his daughter, who is dating a guy that happens to be a NICOclub.com member (The site where we were doing the build chronicle), and he saw my thread detailing the build. That thread includes photos from the car in action back in its Speedvision days.
By late February, the mid March deadline looked like it would come and go with the car still incomplete. Signed Sponsors and potential sponsors, who are watching the progress closely, are starting to question whether or not we can make the race in July, much less the mid-March deadline. Some have dropped out citing the current “economic environment”. I spend a few sleepless nights debating whether or not to continue. Ultimately, I decide that the project must be completed and start using more of my own money to make it happen. With Baby Sophia now home, and my employer going through another round of layoffs, people start to consider whether or not I’ve lost my mind for continuing. It would have been easy to quit at this point. Most of my financial help is gone, and most people supporting the project, including family (everyone except my wife, Jenifer), are encouraging me to reconsider this years race, and maybe just try for 2010. But something was telling me to keep going. I couldn’t leave it alone. I had to get this car done and make it to the Summit of Pikes Peak on race day.
June is here already and work continues. My credit cards are hitting their limit, one by one, and I am starting to have doubts. I keep working anyway, hoping things will work out. My ATV engine builder, John Stallworth (Five time PPIHC Pro Quad Champion), of JSR performance hears that I am having trouble and calls me up to see how he can help. I tell him how close I am but that even if the car gets done I still don’t have my safety gear or a place to stay during race week. He comes through for me and hooks me up with a new Bell helmet, and a driving suit. He also offers me a motel room for race week at the place he was staying. I was completely blown away by his generosity. He was really sticking his neck out for me and I really appreciate all he’s done to help us.
My stepdad, Steve Davis (the Fatman), has been helping throughout the process. He has been making custom parts in the Fatman Racing shop, and coming up on occasional weekends to help with the fabrication and final assembly. During the last few weeks, he brings along family friend Don Carty. Without them this car never would have gotten finished. They were both there in the final weekends of the build, putting in 18 hour days to see it get completed.
Finally, just two weeks before I’m supposed to leave for Pikes Peak, the car was alive. It was a pretty thrilling moment considering all the problems we had faced up to this point. But now we were really up against it. If the car hadn’t fired, maybe it would have been over. Go home and try again for next year. But because it started and ran, we had to keep moving forward. We now had just a few days to solve a few (read several) minor issues and get it to Brice and his crew over at Alamo Autosports to have it tuned. Our appointment with Brice is set and there’s just a week to go before we have to leave for the race.
Next Time: We meet our future primary sponsor, Dyno Tune and testing, the trip to Colorado.
June 1, 2011 – UPDATE: Here is the link to part II.